On Thursday, democracy did a crazy thing. The Student Government election for executive alliance resulted in a runoff election between Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi and Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu.
The Jones-Dargahi alliance received 46.34 percent of the student vote, less than the outright majority needed to win, and Rotnofsky-Mandalapu received 26.9 percent. According to Nicholas Molina, Election Supervisory Board chair, 9,108 votes were cast in the election, an increase of 14 percent in voter turnout over last spring.
This means two things: one, that this spring's election season — most likely due to Rotnofsky-Mandalapu's participation — has attracted nontraditional voters; and two, that the gods have granted UT's voters a second chance to get involved and take an active role in deciding who gets to be student body president and vice president. If you didn't vote this week, now is your chance.
Every vote matters. Take the time to read about each candidate and make an informed decision. Even voting for a friend is better than nothing at all. I challenge each and everyone of us to cast a vote next week.
The Graduate Student Assembly passed the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities on March 3.
The bill, which was introduced more than a year ago, outlines students’ right to voice their grievances and be treated respectfully and professionally by the university administration.
However, the bill lost its original purpose in the process of negotiating with university administrators. Several rights in the May 2014 draft such as the “right to compensation that meets the standard of a living wage," “right to affordable and comprehensive health insurance and housing” and “right to advising guidelines and accurate information in selecting advisors and committee members,” do not appear in the passed version of the Bill of Rights.
Former GSA President Columbia Mishra, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, started the Bill of Rights believing that graduate student stipends are below the poverty line for Travis Country and, if adequate, can reduce stress associated with graduate school.
During an interview with Inside Higher Ed in early 2014, Mishra stated, “The idea for the whole baseline conversation is to help students have an appropriate cost of living standard.”
According to Pathik Joshi, an urban design graduate student and architecture teaching assistant, he received approximately $700 a month after taxes last year.
“$700 a month is not enough to pay the rent and live comfortably,” Joshi told the Texan.
Apart from trying to improve compensation that meets the real living-wage standards of a graduate student, the GSA also wanted to address issues such as the wide variation in college stipends and extra working hours assigned to teaching assistants. This is a serious concern, especially for TAs in the College of Liberal Arts, where a TA Task Force recently released its recommendations on how to improve working conditions for TAs in that college.
Those are the real issues that need to be addressed by the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, they have been deleted from the current version or worded very carefully so as to avoid disputes with administrators.
Since Gage Paine, the vice president for student affairs, challenged the feasibility of a University commitment to providing new graduate student housing during the GSA's February meeting, the organization added an amendment to the Bill of Rights changing the phrase “university commitment to affordable housing accessible via public transit, and in reasonable proximity to campus” to “university commitment to a basic standard of living."
“We found that in conversation with people that if we included the living wage in the original propositions, that will be the end of the bill, and it will never get passed,” Beth Cozzolino, GSA student affairs director, said. “So I am actually really happy with the current wording of a University commitment to a basic standard of living."
Since Texas does not permit unions at public universities, graduate students have to rely solely on the GSA than other states to voice their concern and demand their rights. Instead of caving into “suggestions” that was given by the administrator, GSA should better represent the student body and ask what we truly deserve.
Today, I cast my vote in the University elections being held throughout today and tomorrow. I made my selections for Student Government, Texas Student Media (including the editor of the Texan) and other posts as a part of my civic responsibility as a student here at UT. The entire process was conducted online, at "Utexasvote.org," and took a grand total of 30 seconds. It would quite literally be impossible to vote with any more ease.
Sadly, barring unusually high turnout, for every one student who chooses to vote, four will choose to not vote. Turnout in student elections here on the 40 acres hovers around 15 percent, give or take a few points. Given Texas' reputation as the single worst place in the country for civic participation, I suppose one could infer that the apathy starts from quite a young age.
Braydon Jones, one of the SG Presidential candidates, appeared strangely complacent with this lackluster participation rate at the Executive Alliance candidate debate last Monday. In comments quoted by the Texan, Jones noted that "Fifteen percent of students turned out to vote in last year’s election, as similarly, 17 percent of people voted in national elections and midterms last year," adding "We’re spot-on."
No. We're not spot-on.
According to estimations by the United States Election Project, more than 36 percent of voting-eligible individuals voted in last year's elections, with even higher participation among the registered population. All UT students are ostensibly registered to vote for campus elections, by comparison. Additionally, if voting were as easy in a city, state or federal election as it is at this University, then the rate would be exponentially higher.
Big things happen on campus every single day, and students are lucky enough to give input into that process. The tradition of actually giving a care about that process is one that should be learned young. Only then will we truly be "spot-on."
The Texas Legislature has reloaded the debate on campus carry, a controversial bill allowing guns on campus. After failing to pass in 2011 and 2013, the bill is once again making its way through the Texas Senate. It has met with fierce opposition from antigun activists. UT System Chancellor William McRaven, previous Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and President William Powers Jr. have all openly advised against it. Professors are condemning firearms on campus, and students are not eager to adopt the bill, either. Still, it passed on a 7-2 party-line vote from the Senate State Affairs Committee and is on its way to the Senate floor.
So why is this bill advancing if it has been repeatedly blocked and opposed? And who, besides individuals prepared for armed conflict on campuses, stands to benefit from campus carry? According to Jeremi Suri’s most recent column, this debate is, unfortunately, “not about universities at all."
Campus carry is intruding a political agenda onto Texas campuses. The bill is an impractical way of preserving social libertarian principles and puts campuses in jeopardy. Gun advocates that stand to champion another “individual rights” bill are overlooking this.
This is a political wedge issue. The students don’t benefit. The faculty don’t benefit. College campuses make up a significant portion of the Texas population that generally restricts the possession of weapons. As Suri says, universities are “familiar targets for advocates of individual freedom” because they occupy “large spaces in our cities and towns.” Texas is asserting its conservative bona fides. Since conservative agendas have little competition from the left, guns on campuses is political leverage for securing primary voters.
These power politics are prioritizing the right to bear arms over the right to receive an education safely. On campus, freedoms can be restrained to reach the collective goal of education. That is why texting and other behaviors are regulated in classrooms. Our campus is a special space for inquiry, and our right to this space should not be infringed upon.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.